December 26, 2012

Bahrain's Monarchy Waging Fierce Infowar, Lawfare

Credit must be given where credit is due, however tainted it is.

Under Western pressure to moderate its repression and remain a credible ally, Bahrain's monarchy has wielded a combination of riot tactics, well-connected public relations and legal exploitation to minimize its international profile. This strategy, along with Bahrain's indispensable position vis-à-vis Iran, has achieved its objective of blunting Western criticism and accountability, but utterly fails to resolve Bahrain's political dilemmas. Instead, a recklessly confident King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa is allowed to ignore and thus perpetuate the historical crisis facing his government. Protected internationally by the U.S. and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), led by counterrevolutionary sponsor Saudi Arabia, Hamad's alliance seems to believe that he cannot be pulled down from his throne.

On Tuesday Foreign Minister Shaikh Khalid bin Ahmed bin Mohammed Al Khalifa described a United Military Command to the 33rd session of the GCC Supreme Council, envisioning an umbrella of "Peninsula Shield Forces as well as the air and naval forces."

Making these types of statements in Bahrain, ground-zero for the Peninsula Shield's mayhem, is one of countless demonstrations of the monarchy's insensitivity. GCC unity does present a long, winding road that won't reach its goal in the near future, but the trend is gradually pushing towards enhanced economic and military integration. The GCC already functions as a Saudi-fueled NATO, counterattacking the flames of political opposition and revolution wherever dissent erupts.

Addressing King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia as princes would acknowledge their superior, King Hamad concluded his keynote speech by announcing, "We believe that achievements will achieve integration and unity. We ask God Almighty to bless our efforts for a brighter and prosperous future."

Domestically, Hamad's royal circle has pursued the beheading of oppositional leadership in an ongoing effort to isolate the youth coalitions, in turn forcing them towards unorganized and violent reactions to the government's abuses. Medical personal has become another main target of legal prosecution, when they aren't being assaulted or tortured themselves. The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) has suffered in particular due to its independence, national appeal and legitimacy with international groups. Its co-founder, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, was arrested, tortured and sentenced to life in September for "breaching the Constitution and participating in plot to overthrow the regime and having intelligence contact with foreign entities and other charges."

To measure the dizzying height of these trumped-up allegations, a charge levied on eight of his fellow defendants, one was accused of plotting a coup involving 40 Iranian warships.

As for Zainab, one of al-Khawaja's tireless daughters, she as been arrested nearly a dozen times for non-violent protests, many of them solitary sit-ins or vigils. Chants of "Down, Down Hamad" have resulted in verbal and physical abuse during her detention. Nor is Zainab's intimate family safe; her husband was released in January 2012, and her brother-in-law "was released after a six-month sentence in late 2011." She claims they were tortured as well, acts that have disappeared into the shadows of the King's hollow "Independent Commission of Inquiry."

Zainab's sister, Maryam, currently operates in exile, pushed out by her father to continue their cause safely off the island.

The BCHR's other co-founder, Nabeel Rajab, also occupies a jail cell following the recent confirmation of his sentence, albeit reduced from three years to two. An irrelevant detail given the monarchy's ability to rearrest and delay appeals, Rajab's unjust "legal process" inevitably broke the same way as al-Khawaja's and removed both charismatic personalities from Bahrain's streets. Unsatisfied by these gains, the monarchy then arrested Said Yousif Almuhafda, the BCHR's media coordinator, during last Monday's protests in Manama and delayed his hearing until the beginning of 2013. This legal procedure for harassing the pro-democracy opposition has proven effective under the U.S.-GCC's own legal umbrella.

Zainab's case has now been delayed to January 20th, much to the disgust of her supporters who chant "justice delayed is justice denied." Yet this coordinated and calculated assault to undermine Bahrain's opposition has failed to elicit any  accountability from its most powerful Western ally. Instruments of crowd control still flow to the island, advertising America's undemocratic position directly to the people that are expected to negotiated with a monarchy that has lost legitimacy.

Writing in The New York Times before her December 26th hearing, Zainab warns, "This double standard is costing America its credibility across the region; and the message being understood is that if you are an ally of America, then you can get away with abusing human rights."

The deafening silence articulated by Zainab and the BHRC may break after Christmas's media pause, but Bahrain's allies are unlikely to do anything more than talk. The last U.S. statement on Rajab's detention dates August 23rd, while the al-Khawajas have been abandoned to a merciless King. House raids continue day and night as Manama remains outlawed to protesters.

"The BCHR is concerned and disappointed by the silence of the international community and the lack of concrete actions to put an end to the authorities' violence towards peaceful protesters and their militarization of Salmaniya Medical Complex. The BCHR also calls on the United States, the United Kingdom, the UN and all other allies and international institutions to put pressure of the Government of Bahrain to stop its use of excessive force in response to the continued peaceful protests, and to consider a meaningful solution to resolve the persistent political issues of instability in the country."

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